C. S. Lewis Lewis, C(live) S(taples) (Vol. 27)

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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C(live) S(taples) Lewis 1898–1963

(Also wrote under pseudonyms of Clive Hamilton, Nat Whilk, and N. W. Clerk) English novelist, essayist, critic, autobiographer, poet, and short story writer.

Lewis is considered one of the foremost Christian authors of the twentieth century. Indebted principally to the works of George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, and Charles Williams, and to ancient Norse myths, he is regarded as a formidable logician and Christian polemicist, a perceptive literary critic, and—most highly—as a writer of fantasy literature. Among the imaginative works for which he is best known are The Screwtape Letters (1942), the series of children's books collectively called The Chronicles of Narnia, and the science-fiction trilogy comprising Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945). The conflicts presented in Lewis's fiction evoke the cosmic struggle between good and evil, and evidence the Christian vision which informs his literary and critical works.

An acknowledged authority on medieval and Renaissance literature, Lewis taught at Oxford and Cambridge. A traditionalist in his approach to life and art, he opposed the modern movement in literary criticism toward biographical and psychological interpretation. Instead, Lewis practiced and propounded a theory of criticism which stresses the importance of the author's intent, rather than the reader's presuppositions and prejudices. In his Christian polemics, notably Mere Christianity (1952), The Abolition of Man (1943), and The World's Last Night and Other Essays (1960), Lewis's renowned wit and reason serve to defend the faith he embraced in 1931 and to attack the modern social/religious trend which equates change—no matter how foolish or destructive—with progress. Ever popular, Lewis's books continue to attract a growing readership and are the subject of increasing critical study.

(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 6, 14; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 3; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84; and Something about the Author, Vol. 13.)

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[An anonymous critic provided the only review of Lewis's first book, a collection of traditional poetry written under the pseudonym "Clive Hamilton" and titled Spirits in Bondage.]

These lyrics are always graceful and polished, and their varied themes are chosen from those which naturally attract poets—the Autumn Morning, Oxford, Lullaby, The Witch, Milton Read Again, and so on. The thought, when closed with, is found rather often not to rise above the commonplace. The piece which most arrested us was "The Satyr."

A review of "Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1919; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 897, March 27, 1919, p. 167.

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The long narrative poem "Dymer," written by C. S. Lewis under the pseudonym of Clive Hamilton] is notable because it is in the epic tradition and yet is modern in idiom, and reflects a profoundly personal intuition…. [Doubtless] the prejudice which exists against the epic as a modern art form is due to a belief that in civilized hands it must prove an impure form, a form in which substance and idea are not necessarily related.

Mr. Hamilton has disproved that belief by showing that, in the modern epic, the spiritual may be translated into terms of the physical as inevitably as, in the primitive epic, the physical was translated into terms of the imaginative. He has shown this more convincingly than Mr. Masefield in "Dauber," with which his poem may be usefully compared, because Dymer's experience is throughout metaphysical. His ordeal is not on the high seas but in the swamps and arid places of his own soul-making. To embody such an experience in action is very difficult. For realism is unequal to its complexity, while fantasy easily tempts into regions picturesque but remote from reality. It demands, in fact, a symbolism in which adventures, essentially abstract, are made concrete and physically...

(The entire section is 13,154 words.)